Originally published on Medium, July 2019

On its surface the free mixtape Set Them Free, a collaboration between Ottawa DJs Bellyfull Sound and little known reggae artist Provherbs makes little sense. Most DJ collectives trying to build a reputation would collaborate with a much bigger name— and pay for the right to do so. Instead, Bellyfull introduces themselves to the global dancehall DJ subculture with a project built on a unique relationship between a Canadian chef and a singer who both share a love for cooking and reggae music.

To most people in Ottawa, Canada Mike Radford is an unassuming executive chef. A former line chef who worked his way up to managing some of Ottawa’s best kitchens. However, because of his parents’ work, Radford spent the majority of his formative years in Barbados. There, he fell in love with the sounds, rhythms, and energy of Caribbean music. Returning to Canada in his late teens, Radford was determined to share his experiences with others.

As a chef working alongside Carib-Canadians he was encouraged to turn his dreams into reality, becoming a DJ and starting Bellyfull Sound. The current iteration of Bellyfull features Radford, fellow chef Chris Archer, and Bermuda born record producer Dene “D-Mass” Swan (Editor’s note: Dene is my brother).

Last year, the trio made their first foray into the music scene beyond their hometown. Produced by D-Mass, and executive produced by Radford, the collective released the “Imagin Riddim.” A compilation of songs on a single instrumental called Imagin, an ode to the dancehall tradition of riddim compilations that peaked in the 1990’s.

Radford wanted to make the project as authentic as possible, so after recruiting 3 Canadian artists, he reached out to Jamaican studios. Unable to afford big name artists, Radford found a group of talented artists working out of the legendary Caveman Studios who were more than happy to participate in the compilation. One of them being veteran artist Provherbs. His song, “Can’t Ignore,” is arguably the standout song for the collection.

Radford and Provherbs built a friendship through Watsapp conversations. But the conversation wasn’t always about music. Hearing of Mike’s job as a chef, conversations quickly moved to Provherbs sharing Ital (Rastafarian) recipes with the Canadian.

Eventually, the duo decided to compile a mixtape to promote Provherbs. Featuring exclusive songs produced by Bellyfull Sound’s Chris Archer, dubplate’s (personalized exclusive songs), curated singles from his career, and “Can’t Ignore.” The mixtape project features songs promoting social justice, peace, the artist’s affection for cannabis and briefly, his love of cooking.

The song Herbs and Spice begins by painting an image of Provherbs ideal day — cooking a stew for friends, then sharing it. Smoking libations with them after their meal. These are simple dreams we can all relate with.